This holiday weekend was created nearly 150 years ago to honor fallen military men and women in a ritual of remembrance. Certainly a rendition of “Taps” will ring out on many a cemetery and television newscast this weekend across the country. For most Americans, this three day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer and an excuse to leave town to camp, congregate and party. A quarter century ago on this very weekend, I moved into the home where I still live. Do you have any idea how much clutter you can collect in twenty-five years? It is also the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He was a vet of World War I. As much as I appreciate the sacrifices of soldiers, I have yet to visit a cemetery on Memorial Day.
Instead, I signed up for the escape town adventure for many years. One of my high school buddies discovered and organized a retreat at an old, run down resort on Camano Island. They had cabins without running water, a wood stove and what once was a bed mattress. It was camping with a roof. But, it was right on the shores of Puget Sound. We’ll call the accommodations rustic. Some of the cabins had bit the dust completely and trees had sprouted above the rafters. The owners were so old they may have been involved in the Civil War which is where this holiday originated. Only an hour and a half from home, it was a million miles from life’s troubles.
A whole group of old high school buddies converged. By then, most of us had mates and only one had a baby. The booze and bull crap flowed freely and our spouses mostly shook their heads. We dug clams and got sunburned and caroused. The women folk bonded and made chowder with the clams we dug. This became an annual reunion until Grandma Cama passed on to the other side and the place shut down. A new destination was needed.
Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend was built to protect the Puget Sound from nautical invasion dating back to the 1890’s. In 1955, it became a state park here in Washington. The officer quarters had running water and other creature comforts, so this option created multiple new opportunities for a group of old high school buddies to celebrate each Memorial Day weekend. Six bedroom brick houses were shared by multiple families. Our group required two and sometimes three houses. Each was over packed. The little kids turned closets into camps. The child population by now had mushroomed and they far out numbered adults. Co-ed, all aged softball games, basketball, tennis, beach combing, biking, and general mayhem was the daily agenda. This was a perfect recipe for bruises, scrapes, cracked ribs and sore muscles a bunch of aging men looked forward to sharing each year. Beer seemed to be the most common medicinal remedy. We squeezed music in with everything we did. The annual gathering disintegrated when an overbearing outsider tried to take charge. It was easier to disband the event than blatantly banish the intruder.
Just like every other holiday in America, this one has evolved and the original purpose seems to have been replaced with another. I am unable to think of one holiday that is celebrated by the majority for its initial intent. As we humans age, the cranial computer continuously fills the memory banks. Sometimes we lose focus of our own original purpose. Young people wonder why their elders have stories they repeat about things that happened to them double digit years ago. We do it because it was and is still part of who we are now. And gosh darn it, you little whippersnappers, there are lessons you can learn from every one of them!
Tip of the hat to all soldiers, past and present, who helped make our world a little safer.